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STEELERS HOLD OFF JETS TO REACH SUPER BOWL

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For the third time in six seasons, Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl. The Steelers dominated the first half and held off a brilliant Jets rally in the second half of a 24-19 victory for the AFC championship. The Steelers will face Green Bay in Dallas in Super Bowl 45 in two weeks.

Steelers 24 – Jets 19
Pittsburgh dominated the first two quarters thanks to yet another strong defensive performance, coupled with what might be the best half of the season by Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers offensive line. The game was far from a laugher, however, as Rex Ryan’s Jets stormed out of halftime and nearly overcame a 24-point deficit. The Steelers held on, though, and will be making a trip to their third Super Bowl in the last six seasons.

GAME FLOW
New York won the toss and looked to make a statement by putting its defense out on the field to open the game, but that statement was one they’d like to forget. Pittsburgh came out with a 15-play monster of a drive that saw the Steelers convert three third downs and eat up the first nine minutes of game time before Rashard Mendenhall capped the series with a one-yard touchdown run. The Jets took over on offense and drove into Pittsburgh territory before stalling outside of field goal range.

The defense bailed out Pittsburgh with a three-and-out in the first part of the second quarter after the Jets snagged an interception that bounced off of Mendenhall’s hands. Rashard would atone for the turnover with a 35-yard run on his very next drive, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham which put Pittsburgh up 10-0.

The Steelers defense continued to dominate the second quarter, forcing a second-straight three-and-out. Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh into the redzone on the ensuing drive and then kept it himself, scoring on a two-yard keeper to put his team up 17-0. That lead grew to 24 points when, three plays later, CB Ike Taylor came up big on a blitz, sacking Mark Sanchez and forcing the ball to the turf, where it was scooped up by fellow-corner William Gay on the way to the endzone. The Jets were able to break onto the scoreboard with a late field goal by Nick Folk, but were still staring down a 21-point deficit.

New York refused to go quietly and came out strong in the second half with former-Steeler Santonio Holmes breaking loose for a 45-yard touchdown catch. Pittsburgh’s offense wasn’t as sharp in the third quarter and failed to add to its lead, though the unit did manage to run off over ten minutes of the clock.

The fourth quarter began with the Jets on the move, pushing down the field all the way to the one-yard line. Pittsburgh’s defense came up with an enormous stop on fourth-and-short that prevented a Jets score. Unfortunately, it left Pittsburgh’s offense backed up in its own endzone against a defense that turned a similar situation into a safety in the regular season. History seemed to repeat itself as a fumbled snap led to an easy safety for New York. The Jets took those two points and added seven more when Mark Sanchez hit Jerricho Cotchery for a four-yard score with just over three minutes remaining. Pittsburgh’s offense stepped on the field needing to burn off those final minutes and they did so with two big passing plays. A 14-yard catch by Heath Miller coupled with another late-game connection between Big Ben and rookie Antonio Brown sealed the game for the Super-Bowl-bound Pittsburgh Steelers.

INJURIES
The Steelers lost a Pro Bowler early in the contest when rookie wonder Maurkice Pouncey left the game on the team’s first drive. Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain and did not return to the field.

OFFENSE
On the ground:
Pittsburgh’s running game was near-unstoppable in the first half, with Rashard Mendenhall racking up 95 yards on 17 first-half attempts. He would finish the day with 27 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Isaac Redman added 27 yards on four carries. Big Ben had five “true” carries in the game which picked up three first downs and a touchdown.

Through the air: Roethlisberger didn’t have his strongest game, netting only 133 yards on 10-of-19 passing with two interceptions. No Steelers player had more than two receptions, with Heath Millers (two for 38 yards), Mendenhall (two for 32), and Hines Ward (two for fourteen) leading the way. Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Mewelde Moore, and Mike Wallace all had one catch each.

DEFENSE
Pittsburgh’s defense had an unbelievable first half, holding the Jets to just 50 yards in the first half with one lonely yard on the ground. While New York was better in the second half, a score by the defense proved to be the difference. Ike Taylor’s sack-fumble set up a recovery and touchdown return by William Gay. LaMarr Woodley also notched a sack and become the fastest player to ten sacks in the postseason in NFL history (six games), eclipsing the seven-game mark set by Richard Dent. Lawrence Timmons led the team with ten total tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Shaun Suisham converted his only field goal attempt of the game from twenty yards out. Jeremy Kapinos only punted one time for 38 yards. Antonio Brown averaged 22.7 yards on three returns and Arnaz Battle notched three tackles on special teams.

GAME BALL
The game ball for the AFC Championship goes to the Pittsburgh offensive line, which controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, allowing the team to storm out to a 24-0 lead. That group paved the way for some big first-half runs by Mendenhall and Redman all while keeping Ben Roethlisberger relatively clean (just two sacks).

NEXT UP
Super Bowl XLV. The Pittsburgh Steelers will square off against the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers in front of a hundred-thousand strong in Dallas, Texas. The two teams will kickoff at 6:30PM on Sunday, February 6 with the game broadcast on FOX.

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